by E.L. Christianson Jr.
The confederate flag stands for one thing and one thing only. An individual can say what it means to them as an individual, but that is usually separate from the reality of what it meant to a nation that created it. It is also usually separate from the reality of why it is presented to the public, even when the individual presenting it claims a personal meaning.
That the confederate flag was created as a symbol for a nation being formed as a break-away nation from the United States of America is an undisputed fact. That the break-away nation was rebelling against the potential limitations of and perhaps the end of slavery is made totally clear by the very words of those leading the rebellion. There is absolutely no doubt about the intentions of the break-away nation, nor is there any ambiguity in the language of the leaders.
Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy was racist and pro-slavery to the end of his life. He died in 1889. His memoirs, his words tell the truth about his view and motivation in leading a treasonous rebellion against the United States government.
"...As a mere historical fact, we have seen that African servitude among us ―confessedly the mildest and most humane of all institutions to which the name “slavery” has ever been applied―existed in all the original states, and that it was recognized and protected in the fourth article of the Constitution..."
"... They see that the slaves in their present condition in the South are comfortable and happy; they see them advancing in intelligence; they see the kindest relations existing between them and their masters; they see them provided for in age and sickness, in infancy and in disability; they see them in useful employment, restrained from the vicious indulgences to which their inferior nature inclines them..."
Davis is clear about which state right or the infringement thereon he was willing to secede from the United States of American and that was the right of the state to keep Africans in servitude.
Others can obfuscate the intentions with claims of 'states rights', but the specific right of the state in question was the right of the state to maintain slavery, the right to keep that species (those "3/5" of a human-being, that "lower caste") in servitude. This purpose for secession is repeatedly stated in plain and simple language, "slavery".
Consistant with the views of the president of the confederacy were the views of Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America who in a defining speech in Savannah, Georgia March 21, 1861, said, "...Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth..." (source)
The claims of flying the confederate flag to honor a dead grand-parent who died fighting for that flag, or claims that the confederate flag represents heritage are perhaps true claims. But those claims do not erase the truth that the dead grand-parent died fighting in a battle to maintain slavery in their state. The heritage being celebrated is a heritage of slavery.
If one wants to celebrate their 'heritage' in a personal manner, that is their priviledge and it should be kept personal. That one wants to create a public celebration about a treasonous war intended to uphold one of humanities greatest inhumanities (enslavement of human-beings) is wrong. That one wants that public celebration to be represented by the state is an affront to all people in that state.
Symbols are just that, symbols. They are used to convey meaning. The meaning of the symbolism of the confederate flag is clear. Those who speak with those symbols cannot hide the meaning of their language with denials of the truth, or excuses about the truth, or with lies. History books can be re-written but the truth is the truth !!!
Finally, in a parting speech to fellow senators Davis makes clear that he sees the senators from the north as the villians because they fail to understand the constitution of the United States. They, according to Davis, do not understand the founding of this great nation and the necessity of using language such as "all men are created free and equal". As Davis explaines to the senate, that language was for political purposes only, that phrase only referred to "men of the political community" and made "no reference to the slave".
Regardless of a separate and personal 'meaning for the confederate flag' any individual may want to impose, the real true and historical meaning is defined by those who led the rebellion. Their own words speak loudly. Their intentions and their meaning is clear for anyone who listens.
When the various states seceded from the United States of America they stated in clear and plain language what grievance caused their secession. For the full statement read The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States
Here are the opening lines from the state of Mississippi:
"A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union
In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery...
...The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.
With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization...
...Why? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union...
Approved, Tuesday, January 29, 1861
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
...In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.
The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."
This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River...
Adopted December 24, 1860
A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.
...based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States....
Adopted in Convention on the 2nd day of Feby, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one and of the independence of Texas the twenty-fifth.
THE SECESSION ORDINANCE.
...having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States...
Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the 17th day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
| || |
"...It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.
That Declaration of Independence is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it was made. The communities were declaring their independence; the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born - to use the language of Mr. Jefferson - booted and spurred to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal - meaning the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that no man inherited the right to govern; that there were no classes by which power and place descended to families, but that all stations were equally within the grasp of each member of the body politic. These were the great principles they announced; these were the end to which their enunciation was directed. They have no reference to the slave; else, how happened it that among the items of arraignment made against George III was that he endeavored to do just what the North had been endeavoring of late to do - to stir up insurrection among our slaves? Had the declaration announced that the negroes were free and equal, how was the prince to be arraigned for stirring up insurrection among them? And how was this to be enumerated among the high crimes which caused the colonies to sever their connection with the mother country? When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable, for there we find provision made for the very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men - not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three-fifths..."
Jefferson Davis - Last speech before the U.S. Senate - January 21, 1861
The KKK and the white citizens councils adopted the confederate flag as their symbol and made very clear through violence on the individual level as well as at state levels that they were opposed to anything that resembled equality for African-Americans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who hails from South Carolina and is now running for president, has come to the rebel flag's defense. According to Graham, the Confederate flag is an integral "part of who we are.""This guy's just whacked out," he said. "It's 2015—there are people who are looking for Christians to kill them."
In a nod toward the delusional and regardless of the killer's own statements, Lindsey Graham wants us to believe that Dylann Roof killed these people because they are Christians.
Still, according to Graham, the Confederate flag is an integral "part of who we are."
Yes, we can believe that, for some people it is a part of who they are... for the rest of us, let's go with the truth... the confederate flag is not to be celebrated because it represents an idea of white supremacy that is inappropriate for this country at this time.
The Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacy — and it always has
by Libby Nelson ------- Vox
A pro-Confederate flag protest on the South Carolina Capitol grounds in 2000. Erik Perel/AFP via Getty Images
The American flag and the South Carolina state flag are flying at half-staff at the state's Capitol after a gunman murdered nine people at a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night.
The Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds, on the other hand, is still flying at its usual height, 30 feet in the air, lighted at night. And it isn't going anywhere. A compromise that took down the flag from over the statehouse in 2000 did all it could to make sure it didn't budge any further from the seat of state government. Moving it requires a two-thirds vote from the state's general assembly.
A mass murder apparently motivated by white supremacy has sparked yet another debate about what the Confederate flag really symbolizes. Yet the facts of the matter are clear: from the Civil War through the civil rights movement, the flag has always been about white supremacy. It's always been embraced hardest when white Southerners felt most threatened. Fights over the South Carolina Capitol's Confederate flag have been going on for more than 40 years.
But the flag's meaning hasn't really changed since the Civil War. The only thing that has is how the rest of the country sees the cause it represents.
The Confederate flag has always been about white supremacy
The Confederate battle flag was one of several flags used during the Civil War. The first was discarded because it looked too much like the American flag. The third was discarded because the white got dirty easily and could resemble a flag of surrender. (Kean Collection via Getty Images)
The Confederacy itself was founded to preserve slavery and promote white supremacy (see, for example, Mississippi's declaration of secession: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world," or the speech from the Confederacy's vice president that declared the Confederacy's cornerstone "rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition").
And from the moment the design of its best-known flag was proposed, some Southerners began imbuing it with the symbolism of their cause.
The flag was based on the saltire, a common flag symbol sometimes called the Southern cross. As historian John Coski writes in The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem, Southerners weren't shy about enlisting the design in the cause of white supremacy. In 1863, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger wrote that the flag's Southern cross pointed to "the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave" — the Confederacy's hoped-for expansion of slavery into Latin America.
Like other vestiges of the Confederacy, the flag outlived the Civil War. At first, white Southerners mostly displayed it at Civil War cemeteries and at memorials and veterans' reunions. That use of the flag is the crux of the "heritage, not hate" argument: that the Confederate flag is simply about honoring the South's past, its dead, and its culture. As a white woman who still flies the flag in a historically black South Carolina neighborhood put it, it's about "family history."
But the flag's meaning was never really innocuous. "Family history" only became a plausible rationale because of a devil's bargain. In the interest of reuniting white Americans, the narrative around the Civil War changed in its aftermath. And the new story was more flattering to the South.
As historian David Blight has argued, the invented memory brought together white Northerners and Southerners to emphasize the valor, courage, and sacrifice of soldiers on both sides. Slavery was sidelined as the war's primary cause in favor of the vaguer term "state's rights" (the right to own slaves). The war became a national tragedy, not a just cause. Reconstruction was not a failed attempt at racial equality, but a dangerous mistake.
Those are the kind of historical interpretations that make the Confederate flag seem like a harmless symbol of regional heritage. It's how Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida could all include the Confederate flag in their state flags during the 1890s with little fuss. But while white Southern women were draping the flags on the gravestones of the fallen in the early years of Reconstruction, Coski writes, an armed militia of white supremacists in South Carolina was marching with the Confederate battle flag to threaten black residents.
The "heritage, not hate" argument is predicated on this national amnesia. And that amnesia came at the expense of black Americans.
The flag became a cultural symbol when white Southerners started to feel threatenedThe Confederate flag began enjoying unprecedented national popularity and became a cultural symbol after World War II, just as the federal government began trying to make good on its Reconstruction-era civil rights promises.
In the early 1950s, stock car racers, Southern universities, and social groups embraced the Confederate flag, Coski wrote in his book. It's this kind of use of the Confederate flag that has made it a cultural marker, shorthand not just for the Confederacy but for a specific strain of white Southern culture.
But it's not a coincidence that white Southerners were embracing the Confederate battle flag just as the South's system of violently enforced white supremacy was under its first real threat since Reconstruction. President Truman had vowed to do more to promote civil rights, integrating the military and telling the NAACP that civil rights could not wait.
In response, the Ku Klux Klan surged. Southern politicians displayed the Confederate battle flag when they railed against Truman. College students who supported Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign in 1948 waved Confederate flags at campaign events. The flag even became popular in the North: a man purchasing the flag in New Jersey told Life he was doing it to oppose Truman.
A New Jersey man bought a Confederate flag to oppose the Truman administration in 1951.
And when Southerners at the time said the flag represented their culture, they made it very clear whose culture they meant: "It means the Southern cause," Roy Harris, a legendary Georgia politician, said in 1951, according to Coski's book. "It is becoming … the symbol of the white race and the cause of the white people."
Somewhat puzzlingly, in the same report that featured the anti-Truman flag buyer in New Jersey, Life wrote off the flag's popularity as a fad. But black newspapers didn't buy it: "Have we so soon forgot what the Confederate flag represents?" Coski records the Afro-American, a nationally prominent black newspaper, as asking. "The Confederate flag stands for slavery and human degradation. The Confederate flag stands for rebellion and treachery. The Confederate flag stands for bloodshed and segregation."
The flag's supporters didn't buy the fad theory, either. "If displaying the flag of the Confederate States of America is a fad, it is one of the longest-lived fads in history, lasting some 90 years," one sniffed in a letter to Life.
The civil rights movement made the flag's meaning crystal clear
The civil rights movement didn't change the flag's meaning — it simply made the hate underlying the heritage more explicit. After the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, white Southerners used the Confederate flag to intimidate civil rights activists and demonstrate states' willingness to protect segregation at all costs.
The flag no longer represented just a 19th-century battle to preserve white supremacy, but a 20th-century one as well.
The KKK waved the Confederate flag. So did the Citizens' Councils, white supremacist groups of prominent and successful people who opposed integration. White mobs at the University of Alabama carried Confederate flags when they threw rocks at Autherine Lucy, the university's first black student, before the university decided to expel her rather than protect her. Mobs fighting to protect segregated schools wore Confederate flags in Little Rock and New Orleans and Austin and Birmingham.
Some Southerners argued that white supremacists who waved the flag as they violently attacked civil rights activists were perverting the flag's true meaning. A New York Times editorial published two days after four girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church claimed segregationists were committing "desecration" of the Confederate symbol.
But what the flag symbolized hadn't changed. Its message had just become less respectable.
When Southern states gave the flags pride of place in their capitols, it was to signal support for segregation. The same Georgia state legislature that considered closing the state's schools rather than integrating them also changed the state flag to include the Confederate symbol. Alabama Governor George Wallace — who promised to fight for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" — began flying the Confederate flag when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy came to Alabama in 1963 to discuss integrating the state's universities. The South Carolina state Capitol began flying the flag in 1962 and never stopped.
South Carolina became the epicenter of Confederate flag conflictConflict over South Carolina's Confederate flag has been around almost as long as the flag has been flying.
Black South Carolinians have been asking for the flag's removal since 1972, and it's been a formal demand of the legislature's Black Caucus since 1977. In 1994, the legislature seriously considered a compromise, including adding the red, green, and black Pan-African flag to the Capitol. But the compromise — which included a paragraph saying that the Confederate flag was not a racist symbol — fell apart.
In the 2000 Republican primary, both George W. Bush and John McCain were asked what should be done about the flag. They said it should be left up to South Carolina, a position for which McCain later apologized.
''I don't believe [Confederate] service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors,'' McCain said.
In 2000, the legislature reached a compromise after 50,000 people marched to demand the flag be taken down and the NAACP declared a boycott. The flag was moved from the Capitol dome to the most prominent spot on the Capitol grounds, near a monument to Confederate soldiers. When it was taken down from the Capitol dome, some flag supporters chanted, "Off the dome and in your face."
When crafting the compromise — which made the flag more visible to visitors than it had been before — legislators did their utmost to ensure the flag couldn't be pushed out any further.
The law requires the flag to be hoisted 30 feet from the ground, illuminated at night, and surrounded by "an appropriate decorative iron fence." Moving it or removing it requires a two-thirds majority vote.
That seems unlikely to happen. Governor Nikki Haley said last year that the flag was no longer an issue: "You really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African-American US senator."
Why the Confederate flag stays upThe fact that the flag continues to fly, even after nine people were apparently murdered in the name of white supremacy, isn't just the result of an ironclad compromise that makes it all but impossible to take down. It's a symbol of how successfully the Civil War has been misremembered so that "heritage" and "hate" could be disentangled from each other.
The Confederate flag was adopted to represent a short-lived rebellion to extend and protect white supremacy and black slavery. For 75 years, it was used as a reminder of the nobility of that cause. Then it became a symbol of resistance to black civil rights leaders and to the federal government that was finally trying to enforce the law of the land.
Somehow, to its defenders, the flag is untainted by any of this. And that narrative has won. In a 2013 poll, 61 percent of South Carolinians — and 73 percent of white South Carolinians — said the flag should stay where it is.
When the Pew Research Center last asked, in 2011, only 30 percent of Americans had a negative reaction to the Confederate flag; 58 percent had no reaction at all. Among white Southerners, 22 percent said they had a positive reaction to the flag.
And when Pew asked the same group what caused the Civil War, 48 percent said it was "mainly about state's rights" — 10 percentage points more than said it was about slavery.
Libby Nelson@libbyanelson email@example.com
Brief History of Color and Symbolism in National Flags
By Aaron Larrimore ---- from: VCU.edu
Flags are an important symbol, if not the most important symbol, of a nation’s identity. For the citizens of a state,the flag is instantly recognizable and it represents the binds that hold society together. Of course, the flag serves a representative purpose of the ideals and identity of the state and does not specifically promote them, nor are those ideals and identities represented only in the flag. Nevertheless, a state’s national flag is a powerful symbol.
read more here:
The Evolution of National Flags
by Alex Santoso ------ Neatorama
At the time of the signing of the Declaration Independence, the United States of America had no official national flag. The Grand Union Flag is considered to be the first national flag of the United States, though it didn't have any official status.
In 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution stating that the national flag of the United States has 13 red and white stripes, and 13 white stars in a blue field. But it didn't specify the arrangement of the stars. One popular story is that George Washington asked Betsy Ross to design and sew the flag (Betsy decided to use a 5-pointed star instead of 6 to save time). Though this story is accepted as historical fact by most Americans, historians doubted it as the only evidence was the words of her only surviving grandson.
Since then, a new star is added to the flag when a new state joined the Union (in 1795, 2 stars and 2 stripes were added when Kentucky and Vermont became states, but the number of stripes subsequently reverted back to 13).
When Alaska and Hawaii were being considered for statehood, people sent in more than 1,500 new flag designs to President Eisenhower. One of the designs was submitted by a 17-year-old high school student named Bob Heft, who first created it as a school project. He got a B- for it (for "lack of originality"), though his teacher agreed to change his grade if his design was accepted. When Bob's flag design was chosen, his teacher changed the grade to an A! (Source)
Confederate Flag History
from: Civil War.com
Four versions of the flag of the Confederate States of America are shown on this print from 1896. (right) Standing at the center are Stonewall Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, surrounded by bust portraits of Jefferson Davis and Confederate Army officers.
There were several flags of the Confederate States of America used during its existence from 1861 to 1865. Since the end of the American Civil War, personal and official use of Confederate flags, and of flags derived from these, has continued under some controversy.
What the Confederate flag really means to America today,
according to a race historian
By Roberto A. Ferdman June 19
What you need to know about the Confederate flag in South Carolina
A Confederate flag is still flying on the grounds of South Carolina's state capitol, even after a white gunman was accused of killing nine black churchgoers at an AME church in Charleston, S.C.
Here's a closer look at why the flag isn't at half-staff or even off the grounds completely.
In the aftermath of Thursday's tragedy in Charleston, the U.S. and South Carolina flags flew at half-mast over the top of the South Carolina State House to honor the black victims of a hate crime. But flying high in front of the building was another symbol: a Confederate flag.
Some argue that the flag is a symbol of slavery and oppression, while others insist that it is purely a matter of Southern heritage and pride.
But too little of the conversation takes into account the flag's complicated history, according to Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana and American studies at Brown University who studies race in the aftermath of the Civil War. Given his research, which has touched frequently on the use of the Confederate flag, Guterl says that he finds it impossible to argue that it's a neutral symbol.
I spoke with Guterl to learn what exactly people misunderstand about the flag, its history, and how that affects what it symbolizes today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with what drives the mentality that has angered so many people. Why do people embrace the Confederate flag?
There are at least two reasons why people embrace the battle flag or the stars and bars, which was first used by the army of northern Virginia.
The first, which is a kind of surface explanation, is that they imagine that in that context the flag is a representation of Southern history, Southern heritage, and Southern culture. They tie it to questions of state’s rights, and the absence of federal oversight.
People see it as a symbol of the South as a bound and discrete place. A part of the heritage that’s being celebrated with it is that the South is the South, that the region has clear borders that might collate with the borders of the Confederacy. It’s bound up, in this sense, in the question of the South as a once nation.
But I also think that people invoke the flag because they want to endorse on some level, even if secretly or subconsciously, the very rationale for the Confederacy. When people say 'heritage not hate,’ they are omitting the obvious, which is that that heritage is hate. When someone says it’s about history, well, that particular history is inseparable from hate, because it is about hate. It’s about racism, and it’s about slavery.
I take it that you don’t approve of the use of the flag.
I object to the use of the flag for a few reasons. On the one hand, I don’t condone it because it’s a reflection of the great treason of the South in the 19th century, of its secession from the Union in defense of slavery, and its rejection of patriotism and nationalism. So just on political principles, the flag is a reminder that the South was once a rebellious and treasonous actor on the global stage.
But what is far more problematic is that there is no way to separate the fact that it is on all of those flag poles and on those license plates, that it's on t-shirts and coffee cups and other paraphernalia, precisely because it was resurrected in the 1940s and 1950s as part of a massive resistance campaign against the civil rights movement. It wouldn’t exist in our national popular culture without this moment, when African Americans fought for their equality, and the battle flag was recovered and redeployed as a symbol of opposition to it.
What was once a very blatant, full-throated defense of white supremacy has now become this gesture to heritage and history that is presented as though it has nothing to do with the civil rights movement. But it has everything to do with the civil rights movement.
Did the flag disappear in the years between the Civil War and the civil rights movement?
It was part of the collective nostalgia for the lost cause in the aftermath of the Civil War. So it wasn't completely absent. But the battle flag, even though it was part of that, wasn't a very memorable part. It was just part of the backdrop.
What would you say to someone who defends their use of the flag by arguing that for them it is ahistorical, that they grew up understanding that it is only a matter of Southern pride?
If I was in a good mood, I might say something like, ‘Well, I guess that this is the start of a conversation, and we should keep going. If that’s the topic sentence of the paragraph you’re writing, well, where is the rest of it?'
But if I was in a bad mood, as I have been increasingly of late, I might tell them that they are delusional, or that they are refusing to look in the mirror, or that they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge what would probably be very painful for them to acknowledge, which is that by flying that flag, they are perpetuating the sense of rage and despair that leads a young man to walk into a church with a gun and shoot nine people.
If you celebrate the hoisting of a battle flag in front of your state’s capitol, and you have roads all over your state that are named after Confederate generals, and you celebrate this 19th century past, it should surprise absolutely no one when people pick up on this and imagine that the South is still at war with the North over whether blacks deserve rights and representation, or even life.
The reaction by the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been to call Dylann Roof a bigot and racist who desecrates the Confederate flag. What do you make of that?
You can’t expect the Sons of the Confederate Veterans to say otherwise. What are they going to say? That finally somebody gets it, that this is what we’ve been lobbying for all along?
One of the great stories of the past few decades is how white supremacist organizations have adopted the language of the civil rights movement and have come to sound like minority multicultural organizations. They say that they are only lobbying for their respective traditions and beliefs to be celebrated alongside those of other people’s. They want a white history month, because it's only fair.
But just because someone says something doesn’t make it honest. And it certainly doesn’t make it true.
You've talked about how we live in this weird moment, where there are competing representations of the truth. What did you mean by that, and how does it affect this conversation?
I think that it’s a huge part of this problem. It’s often the case in journalism, especially broadcast journalism, to present both sides of an issue, and then leave them in this unresolved tension. The thought is that by doing so, what one has set up is a kind of fair portrayal of the debate, one that encourages people to become more informed and then choose sides. But that’s not actually how history works.
There aren’t always multiple ways to tell a story because all the ways aren’t equally valid or truthful. Anyone should be able to pick up a series of historic texts, sift through the evidence themselves, and then come to the unshakable conclusion that the battle flags presence in contemporary American culture is a consequence of lingering commitments to racial prejudice.
The reason we give equal credence to both sides of a story that only really has one true side has so much to do with the last couple decades of media journalism, and the rising conservative critique of a liberal education and critical thinking. It’s about the emergence of Fox News and alternate spaces that demonize or reject conventional histories of things. Just yesterday, Fox News suggested that the shooting was about religious liberty, which is perhaps the most ridiculous and farcical thing ever uttered on that network.
You also have this war on history standards in text books, which is another conversation entirely. But just consider that in Texas many history books are draped in nostalgia for a regrettable period in our country’s past. You can imagine what that does to the psyche of people who grow up in a system like that.
Do you think it's possible for someone to embrace the flag without explicitly or implicitly promoting racism?
The short answer is no.
Wearing the flag or celebrating it, putting it on your car window or coffee table in your house, it's a reminder to everyone, to every guest, to every person who sees it, black or white, that you are a stakeholder in the Confederate history of the South, and therefore the defense of slavery and racial prejudice. No one is immune to this.
Even to say that it’s about heritage not hate, is to recognize that for many people it is inextricably about hate. You can’t filter out the racism and leave what’s pure and historical in the flag, because that purity doesn’t exist. Some things are so primitively stained or tarnished by history that that can never be set side. The flag is a perfect example.
What about the South more generally? Is it wrong to celebrate the South?
Not at all. But if you want to celebrate the South, there are a thousand things you can pick up, and put out on display, without pissing people off or gesturing to the history of racism in this country. The Southern culture is an amazingly rich and fascinating thing, but to choose the flag as what you’re going to trot out to celebrate great grandpa's role in the army of Northern Virginia is only useful if you want to implicate your ancestor’s and their war to defend slavery.
Roberto A. Ferdman is a reporter for Wonkblog covering food, economics, immigration and other things. He was previously a staff writer at Quartz.
How a flag was born
You could say that both sides are correct if you look at how the flag has evolved, says David Goldfield, author of Still Fighting The Civil War.
When the Confederacy debated the adoption of a new flag in Richmond in 1862, it was clear this was to be a symbol of white supremacy and a slavery-dominated society, he says.
After the war, the flag was primarily used for commemorative purposes at graves, memorial services and soldier reunions, but from the perspective of African Americans, the history and heritage that they see is hate, suppression and white supremacy, says Goldfield, and the historical record supports that.
"On the other hand, there are white southerners who trace their ancestors back to the Civil War and want to fly the flag for their great-grandfather who fought under it and died under it." And for them, it genuinely has nothing to do with racism.
The flag wasn't a major symbol until the Civil Rights movement began to take shape in the 1950s, says Bill Ferris, founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, It was a battle flag relegated to history but the Ku Klux Klan and others who resisted desegregation turned to the flag as a symbol.
He likens it to the swastika but others see it very differently. Indeed, the flag has been compared to a Rorschach blot because it means several things at all at once, depending on who is looking at it.
"All symbols are liable to multiple interpretations but this is unique in its power and ability to inflame passions on all sides, and the volume of interpretations and preconceptions about it make it unique in American history," says John Coski, author of The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem. He has even seen it displayed in Europe, where it has become shorthand for "rebel".
Since attempts by campaigners in the 1990s to remove the flags from public buildings, he thinks the issue has died down in the US. In 2001, Georgia changed the 45-year-old design of its state flag after pressure to remove the Confederate symbol.
Although the number of incidents is diminishing it's not going away, he says, because it just takes a couple of well-publicised episodes to get it back on people's radars, and feelings inflamed.
"We can all write the script ourselves - they will say this and they will say this." It's a predictable pattern, he adds.
"I think it will die out," says Ferris, who thinks flag-wavers feel like an embattled minority. "The south is changing, with the growth of Hispanics and Asian and a growing black population, and you can be sure that the Confederate flag has no place in their world."
The South, he says, needs a new emblem to reflect its changing character.
By Amber Phillips ------ Washington Post
If there's one subject on which you just can't win as a Republican politician these days, it seems to be the Confederate flag.
After the racially motivated Charleston shootings this week and a Supreme Court case regarding the flag, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is facing pressure to take down the flag, which is still flying high at a Confederate War memorial on state house grounds. She hasn't heeded the calls, and her staff says it's up to the general assembly. Her fellow South Carolinian and GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, defended the flag flying in his home state by telling CNN on Friday that it is "part of who we are."
Not every Republican agrees. Mitt Romney, who has opposed the flag before, issued another well-circulated call to take it down on Saturday.
As did a key religious conservative. "That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ," wrote Russell Moore, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention.
South Carolina state Rep. Norman Brannon (R) said Friday night he'll introduce a bill to remove the flag from capitol grounds. But Republican politicians like Romney and Brannon have also faced pushback when they've sided with getting rid of the flag.
"That's opening up Pandora's box," Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), a former governor of the state, said when asked on MSNBC if it should be taken down.
"If you touch it, you usually die politically," Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel in South Carolina, told The State newspaper in 2014.
The Confederate flag, of course, first experienced its resurgence in the then-heavily Democratic South. Today, though, Democrats are much more likely to oppose it, making it a pretty easy call for Democratic politicians.
But for the least two decades, it's an issue which has divided and tripped up many Republicans.
Mitt Romney (center) at a 2011 debate. (Rick Carioti/The Washington Post)
When asked in a 2007 CNN/YouTube presidential primary debate about the flag, the Massachusetts governor said "That's not a flag I recognize."
"That flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn't be shown," he said.
In response, the Americans for the Preservation of American Culture ran several radio ads hitting Romney in the South Carolina primary for not supporting the state's heritage.
Sen. John McCain (Reuters)
When Sen. McCain (Ariz.) first ran for president in 2000, he said the flag "was a symbol of racism," then reversed course, releasing a statement saying he actually thought the flag was "a symbol of heritage."
“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary,” McCain said back then.
He later regretted defending the flag. Since then, McCain is perhaps the most vocal Republican critic of the Confederate flag -- and he paid for that, too.
"I can't be more proud of the overwhelming majority of the people of this state who came together in taking that flag off the top of the Capitol," the 2008 GOP presidential nominee said while campaigning in South Carolina that year. (The flag originally flew directly over South Carolina's state house but in 2000 was moved to a nearby Confederate War memorial.)
That earned him radio ads from -- guess who? -- the Americans for the Preservation of American Culture. Pro-Confederate flag protesters would show up to his campaign stops in the south, carrying signs that read "The South does not want John McCain."
Sen. Paul (Ky.) hasn't specifically gotten in trouble for expressing his views on the Confederate flag. But in 2013, the conservative Washington Free Beacon revealed one of Paul's social media aides had worn a Confederate flag mask while writing about his support for the Confederacy and secession under the nom de plume "Southern Avenger."
The 2016 presidential candidate was forced to publicly defend his aide and Paul's decision to keep him on staff.
"Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?” Paul said.
In the same presidential 2007 debate that tripped up Romney, former senator Thompson (Tenn.) also faced backlash for his comments. He said: "As far as a public place is concerned, I am glad that people have made the decision not to display it as a prominent flag -- symbolic of something -- at a state capital."
The next week in South Carolina, CNN reported Thompson was met by "eight Confederate-flag waving men" wearing Confederate flag jackets and holding signs that said, "The South hates Fred Thompson."
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker
Massachusetts' newest governor is perhaps the most recent politician to stumble over the Confederate flag issue. In a radio interview with Boston's WGBH on Thursday, Baker said states should be allowed to choose whether to fly the flag on their capitol grounds.
But he pulled a 180 later that day after he "heard from some friends of mine" who asked him, "What were you thinking?" He apologized in an interview with the Boston Globe. "I think they should take the flag down,” he said.
South Carolina state legislators
A protest in 2000 in front of South Carolina's capitol. (AP)
In the 1990s, as other Southern states slowly lowered their Confederate flags, South Carolina's remained in place. Local business leaders were concerned about the message their lonely Confederate flag sent to national companies, so the local Chamber of Commerce threatened Republican state legislators with cutting off campaign contributions if they didn't acquiesce to lowering the flag.
That didn't go over well with the GOP lawmakers, the New York Times reported in 1999.
"I'd like to tell you one thing," lawmaker Jake Knotts (R) said. "The Confederate flag's not for sale here."
South Carolina Gov. David Beasley
As the debate in South Carolina continued over the Confederate flag, Beasley became just a one-term governor in part thanks to it.
The devout Christian said he had a change of heart while reading the Bible. In 1996, he made a very public speech calling for the removal of the flag from the capital. He lost his 1998 reelection bid -- in part, analysts argue, because conservatives who supported the flag stayed home.
Politicians avoiding trouble
The states-rights argument Baker tried to make might not have worked in the Northeast. But nationally, several GOP politicians have successfully navigated their way out of trouble with it.
In 2000, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush said it's up to each state to decide. That was "an acceptable stance to pro-flag groups at the time," the Washington Times reported. (Also, Bush won the nomination and became president.)
In 2012, meanwhile, former House speaker and GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (Ga.) earned loud cheers from a South Carolina crowd when the presidential candidate said flying the flag on state grounds is "up to the people of South Carolina."
And back in 1993, George Allen ran for governor of Virginia with a TV ad that included a Confederate flag. He defended himself from criticism from black lawmakers, saying the flag was a symbol of Virginia's heritage as the capitol of the Confederacy. He also said that he once displayed the flag at his log cabin, but that he took it down before his campaign to avoid offending anyone. Allen won the election.
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
they were telling the truth... "it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course... Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery"
we should learn to tell the truth, learn from the truth, and plot a better course for our future !!!